Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Nothing But the Truth

In order to reach my goal of five pages a day on my new WIP, I'll apologize in advance for any neglect this little experiment will suffer in the following months. The good news is I'm up to 36 pages already, which would have taken me (in my normal perfectionist writing time) about a month to write. I'm liking this "just get the story out" advice. But, a theme has come to my attention recently, so I'd like to talk about it. That is: Honesty in fiction writing.

For the characters in fiction I have come to the conclusion that honesty means flaws. For example, my main character is a pretty stand up, morally adept gal who tries to do the right thing. Now, if she were to do the right thing all the time, this would make her a cardboard cutout character. That's not real life. She needs mistakes, flaws. In this new novel, she will have to deal with larger issues like what it really means to be human, or to be human but to be different. There will be underlying racial issues of a sort, and she will believe she is free from prejudice but to really let her be honest with herself, she will have to have some conflict between her actions (the person she wants to be) and her feelings (the person she currently is). She will have to acknowledge this conflict (be honest with herself) and try to resolve it. The funny thing about us humans is we are capable of not recognizing that conflict, of deluding ourselves about our true nature, of walking around believing we are our ideal self. Letting the characters be honest about their flaws gives the writer all kinds of new dilemmas to work with. Bonus.

Honesty in science fiction. Robert J. Sawyer wrote an interesting article about Michael Crichton's liberty with truth in his novels. You can read it here:

But isn't that what fiction is, making stuff up? Yes, but I still feel that people reading science fiction are looking to the writer to show them what they should be concerned about or looking forward to in the future. Sort of a "weed out all the crap and give me a rundown on what could really happen" scenario.

As far as the writer being honest with themselves, third issue. Zadie Smith has a really thought-provoking article here:,,1988887,00.html
that addresses this. A quote:

"A writer's personality is his manner of being in the world: his writing style is the unavoidable trace of that is a writer's way of telling the truth."

Being honest about themselves in their writing, being brave enough to hang their "manner of being in the world" out there for readers to discover may be a writer's biggest challenge.


Joe Moore said...

Hi Shannon,

Good points. Honesty in our characters makes them human. If they’re human, the reader has a better chance of relating to them. And if the relationship gels between the reader and the characters, then emotions form-—love or hate.

As far as honesty in science fiction, whether it's SF, Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller, or whatever, it’s really the honesty of the characters that drives the story. STAR WARS and LORD OF THE RINGS are almost identical in plot even though they are separated by worlds. Yet it’s our love for Luke and Frodo and our hatred for Darth Vader and Sauron that create conflict, fire up our emotions, and propel the stories. As fiction writers, we do make things up, but we can’t fake or be dishonest to our characters.

And I think that a character’s flaw must be equal to his or her major talent. In the case of Luke and Frodo, their talent is righteousness, and their main flaw is self-doubt. As great as Superman is, Kryptonite can still bring him to his knees. :-)


Shannon said...

"And I think that a character’s flaw must be equal to his or her major talent."

ooooo, very good point. You know, it's amazing to me that such a simple truth "it's about the reader connecting with the characters" took so long to uncover for me. Of course, I over-complicate everything so the simplest things are the hardest for me to see.

I'm realizing that relatable characters dealing with timeless issues is the best formula...all the better if you can wrap it in an exciting plotline.

I guess that's what learning from other writers is all about, Thanks, Joe!